On 14 June, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a complaint against the Russian authorities by 73 organisations recognised as «foreign agents» in Russia. The applicants and Russian civil society had been waiting nine years for this decision.
The ECHR found that the Russian legislation on «foreign agents» violated human rights, in particular freedom of association. The ECHR also pointed out that state interference in the activities of the applicants’ organisations was not prescribed by law and was not necessary in a democratic society. This led to a violation of Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), interpreted in light of Article 10 (freedom of expression). The Court also found admissible the applicants’ complaints of discrimination on political grounds and that the associations were ultimately restricted in their freedom of expression, but it did not consider a violation of the relevant Articles of the European Convention, as it had already concluded that the applicant organisations had been categorised separately and were subject to differential treatment based on their funding source.
It is also important that the ECHR pointed out the negative meaning that the word «agent» has in Russian. The Court notes in its decision:
«The Russian authorities’ full awareness of the negative connotation of the word is obvious. This follows from their strong objection to their representative being referred to in court as an ’agent of the Russian government’. The Court agreed that, unlike representatives of other Member States referred to as agents, that term would not be used to describe a representative of the Russian Government.»
That is, even the Russian authorities officially recognize the negative connotation.
Of the 73 organizations that filed the complaint, 37 have now been liquidated, but they have official representatives who can enforce the court’s decision. Among them are four «Golos» organizations, which have been awarded compensation:
Regional Public Organization «Golos»
International Public Fund «GOLOS — Povolzhye»
In total, the Russian authorities’ debt to Golos is now officially € 62,480 — less than the various fines paid and the damage done to the work itself and to people who have faced daily discrimination on political grounds for 10 years.
Despite the fact that in June 2022 Russia decided not to execute the ECHR decisions that came into force after 15 March 2022, and that the current «foreign agents» legislation is much worse than the one complained about 9 years ago, we consider the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment as the most important moral and legal victory for Russian civil society in recent years. We are also confident that we will await Russia’s return to the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights and the execution of the ECHR ruling.